Oct 2, 2020 in Analysis

Comparison of Paintings

Every artist has a unique style that becomes mature due to the impact of personal traits of character, the external cultural situation within a particular community or epoch, artist’s social identities, etc.  That means that the artistic work is a result of various equal determinants. This paper attempts to compare two self-portraits of French artist Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun and American painter Samuel Waldo, who managed to embody in their compositions not only the features of the classical and romantic style but also their personal outlook, beliefs, expectations, and self-perception as a woman and a man. The selection of colors, light and shadows, dynamics of the emotions, proportions, and perspective reflect all these aspects. 


The Self-portrait of Vigee Le Brun painted in 1790 depicts a beautiful young woman with curly blond hair in a pretty bonnet. She holds the paintbrushes and palette and stands in front of the easel looking straight forward. The painting communicates an inspiring, enthusiastic atmosphere due to the depiction of the author with a modest smile, who is looking forward to painting a portrait of a woman. Apparently, the analyzed Self-Portrait depicts the author creating this Self-Portrait and thus, is a story within another narration.

The use of colors is classical for the portrait genre and its common performance. Although the colors are dark, subdued, and smooth, there is a bright accent that transforms the composition and catches the viewer’s attention – a red bow on the woman’s waist. This bright accent in the right lower corner of the composition adds to the perception a semantic completeness of the painting because it leads to the balance of white, black, brown, and red colors and thus, to the integrity of the whole painting. In general, the selection of colors with their combination with lights and shadows makes the whole painting light and pleasant for perception.

In addition to that, the image of the woman at the painting is peculiar in the sense of its emotional dynamics that occurs due to the special artistic techniques and concrete depiction of particular elements of the composition. For instance, the woman resembles a child with innocent eyes that does not reflect any sexual belonging. That means that this Self-Portrait reflects the principles of the classical art and is significant to that historical period being an example of the realization of the portrait genre of that time. Moreover, such depiction seems to be sincere and pure.

The light at this painting is directed at the face of the woman making is shine and express happiness and conciliation but at the same time enthusiasm and suspense. On the contrary, the artist locates the shadows in the corners of the painting that creates the atmosphere of mystery but at the same time coziness.

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In my opinion, the analyzed Self-Portrait by Vigee Le Brun also embodies author’s gender attitudes and views about self-identification. Firstly, due to the fact that the painting if a self-portrait, the author has managed to depict her understanding of the womanhood and tenderness with the help of emotional expression and the elegance of the woman’s body and its appearance. Secondly, the Self-portrait can be an idealized reflection of the author’s expectations concerning her personal appearance or a generalized image of the woman as a representative of that historical epoch. Finally, the analyzed painting may embody the author’s inner struggle for naturalness and strict canon of artistic means of expression.

Another character possesses the Self-Portrait of American painter Samuel Waldo. Although the genre of the painting and some of its dramatic collisions may be the same like in the previous composition, it is unique in its way. The style, the expression of emotions, the illusions caused by the incidence of shadows and light and personal author’s philosophical persuasions create an original atmosphere of the artistic composition. 

The Self-Portrait of Waldo depicts a middle-aged man with heartfelt brown eyes. As well as a woman from the first portrait the man holds the palette and a brush because both authors are painters.  However, man’s glance is not straight like on the first portrait. Moreover, it is fixed not on the easel but is lost in space due to the anxiety. Such impression also appears due to the selection of the organization of the composition and colors. In my opinion, the use of colors is distinct from the first analyzed Self-Portrait. The first portrait is more light and bright, whereas the second one by Waldo is darkened. That means that even though Waldo uses the same tints of scarlet, black, white, and brown, the integrate appearance of the portrait is different because of its general mood.

In my opinion, the style of this Self-Portrait of Waldo differs from the first analyzed painting because it is more romantic that means that the classical forms and principles are not supreme. The lines are not so strict and straight. Moreover, the artist portrays himself without taking into consideration the ideals of classical lines and composition. That means that this self-portrait is more dynamic and aims to depict the inner life of the man. The look of the portrayed man is very pathetic and symbolizes various feelings that the character experiences. 

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The Self-Portrait of Vigee Le Brun depicts a happy young woman, whereas the Self-Portrait of Waldo deals with the contradictious dramatic struggle. The portrayal of emotions with the help of artistic means helps to communicate the idea of man’s deep concern about something. The man at the painting of Waldo is looking up with big eyes that express suffering or difficult intellectual or moral dilemma that bothers the character. This Self-Portrait deals with the durational experience but not a static fixation of the moment. Therefore, even though the time gap between the creation of the two analyzed self-portraits is approximately fifteenth years that is not much, the stylistic gap is evident. 

In addition to that, the use of lights and shadows makes the Self-Portrait of Waldo distinct from the painting of Vigee Le Brun. The whole painting is hazy and subdued making the image look mystically and discomposedly. Therefore, the lights and shadows and their placement reveal the symbolic dimensions of the painting due to their implications: both lights and shadows are the accents that may stress the necessary emotions or moments and communicate the author’s idea. On the contrary, the use of lights and shadows in Vigee Le Brun’s painting does not have such romantic and symbolic meaning. 

To sum up, the analyzed self-portraits of  Vigee Le Brun and Waldo show the stylistic gap between two different epochs. Moreover, the authors of these paintings use distinct artistic techniques so as to depict emotions, light, and shadows, etc. At the same time, the analysis of these paintings demonstrates the idea that among the factors, which determine particular artistic works, are not only external factors but also personal philosophical attitudes, expectations, and views. Therefore, both self-portraits reflect the spirit of the historical era as well as the personal experience, values, and outlook. In particular, the Self-Portrait of Vigee Le Brun embodies author’s view on the status and image of a woman and her idealistic attitude towards her personality. Waldo also expresses his romantic outlook in his Self-Portrait making it full of emotions and symbolic meanings.


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